In the past two decades, much has been written about China’s status as the new «factory of the world». In particular, much emphasis has been placed on how global capitalism, with the connivance of the Chinese authorities, was able to exploit China’s workers, unleashing a global "race to the bottom" in labour standards. In such a context, the Chinese workers have usually been described as passive victims "under assault" by the forces of globalization. Recently, this narrative about Chinese labour has started to shift, replaced by a new discourse that focuses on the agency of migrant workers, allegedly undergoing a process of "rights awakening". Such a change in attitude was triggered by different contingent events: new macro-economic priorities of the central State, now trying to boost domestic consumption by improving workers’ salaries and welfare; a significant decrease in the pool of available migrant labour; the effect on workers’ consciousness of a series of strikes, mainly in foreign owned enterprises, which received wide press coverage. These developments call for a renewed reflection on the meaning of Chinese labour in the world after the global financial crisis. With such a goal in mind, Ivan Franceschini and Luigi Tomba have organized a discussion with four well-known experts and activists (Anita Chan, Pun Ngai, Jack Linchuan Qiu and Sun Wanning) with a deep knowledge of the Chinese labour movements, of its strategies and situation.
Keywords: China, labour, globalization, strikes, migrant workers, world factory, Foxconn